Despite efforts by many restaurants to provide healthier Kids’ meals, a new research published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests kids’ meals are still high in fat, sodium and sugar.
Studies show that foods prepared in mom’s kitchen has more nutritional value than restaurant meals. It also says that diets of most children in the US already lack fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items.
Many restaurants have already begun offering healthier choices for children, in anticipation of legislation that will require calorie counts to be included on menus from December 2016.
The research team led by Dr. Sarah Sliwa, PhD, of Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition in Boston, MA, wanted to find out how children’s meals match up to national nutritional recommendations.
The 2014 Nation’s Restaurant News Top 100 Report was used to select outlets for the study. The researchers identified the top 10 quick-service restaurants (QSR) and full-service restaurants (FSR) that offered a kids’ menu, had publicly available nutrition information and provided calorie information for all children’s entrees.
Afterward, the calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium from children’s meal combinations were compared with national dietary recommendations.
Around 72% of the meal combinations at the QSRs and 63% of those at the FSRs were found to be following national guidelines for calories.
Results showed that 72% of the meal combinations at the QSRs and 63% of those at the FSRs followed national guidelines for calories. However, when it came to guidelines for calories, saturated fat and sodium, fewer than 1 in 3 meal combinations at QSRs and 1 in 4 at FSRs met the guidelines. Most meals contained more than the recommended amount of sodium.
Nonetheless, 90% of meal combinations at two of the QSRs had less than 770 mg of sodium, proving that it is feasible for large, successful restaurant chains to meet this requirement.
Dr. Sliwa says:
“Improving the availability of healthier kids’ meals is a critical step toward increasing children’s exposure to healthier foods, but that alone is not enough. We encourage restaurants to look holistically at the nutritional value of their children’s meals, and to market healthier options in ways that emphasize taste and appeal to parents and children alike.”
Senior author Christina Economos, PhD, who is vice chair and director of ChildObesity180, says that while we should praise restaurants on their progress, there is still a long way to go.
Restaurants can increase the prevalence and prominence of appealing, healthy options, but parents also have a role to educate and encourage their children to make healthier choices. Economos urges parents to speak up and demand healthy meals where there are none.
“We need to combine more nutritious children’s meal offerings with stronger education to drive both supply and demand to support healthier choices,” she says.